Groundhog Day

February 2 marks Groundhog Day. While a relatively small population of groundhogs or woodchucks live in the Interior of Alaska, their relative the marmot is a more common resident. Alaska marmots (Marmota broweri), hoary marmots (Marmota caligata), and woodchucks/groundhogs (Marmota monax) all belong to the squirrel family. Alaska sees its fair share of hoary marmots like the one below, and are the largest members of the squirrel family (Sciuridae) in North America.

Photograph of hoary marmot on a rock surrounded by other rocks.

Image taken by author.

Map of Alaska with the population of Hoary Marmots superimposed over the Southeast, Interior, and South Central regions of the state.

Image credit: Alaska Department of Fish and Game: https://www.adfg.alaska.gov/index.cfm?adfg=hoarymarmot.rangemap

While its more famous cousins hog the limelight on February 2nd, marmots appear in Alaska’s historical newspapers, more often than not for their fur coats.

There is one, for instance, an outfit made of a white homespun woolen material with the roughest sort of surface. Then the trimming is done with bands of marmot fur, making a delicious contrast and a most effective spotting of decoration. Image: illustration of a woman wearing a hat and a skirt and a coat trimmed with marmot fur with a walking stick. Caption: White Suit of Homespun, Marmot Trimming on Collar and Cuffs.

Image credit: The Cordova daily times. (Cordova, Alaska), 31 Aug. 1922. Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers. Lib. of Congress. <http://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn86072239/1922-08-31/ed-1/seq-3/>

Men's Fur Lined Coats: Lined with dark muskrat, with extra fine quality imported broadcloth shell and large marmot mink collar. Worth nearly double the price. On sale now at...$65.00

Image credit: The Alaska citizen. (Fairbanks, Alaska), 04 Dec. 1911. Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers. Lib. of Congress. <http://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn96060002/1911-12-04/ed-1/seq-8/>

It is unfortunate that the marmot receives such scant attention, especially given its prominence in Alaska. But for those interested in the happenings of large ground rodents, Groundhog Day is a bonanza. Whether or not you believe in the superstition, there is no shortage of news items that cover the groundhog’s winter weather prognostications. A small sample is included below:

"Old Man" Groundhog Billed to Peer Around Tomorrow: Tomorrow is the day that Mr. Groundhog is billed to make his annual debut on the hills back of Juneau to cast his weather eye about and decide whether or not there is to be a late or early spring. If he sees his shadow on that day it is said that he crawls back into his hole in the ground and stays there for six weeks. If he sees no shadow he sticks around as an indication that the weather is soon to break and spring will be early. With the brand of weather that is on tap right now and has been on tap for several days it is predicted that there will be no shadows for Mr. Groundhog to shy at tomorrow. Some one was mean enough to remark that it was an awful lucky thing than old man Groundhog did not attempt to amble about any yesterday while the high wind was blowing or he might have been blown back into his hole with a broken leg, head, or back.

Image credit: The Alaska daily empire. (Juneau, Alaska), 01 Feb. 1921. Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers. Lib. of Congress. <http://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn84020657/1921-02-01/ed-1/seq-8/>

Sunshine Much Feared: Douglas, Feb. 1.--There is one day of each year when sunshine is not welcomed in any part of the country and tomorrow is that day. Tomorrow is "Groundhog" day, the day when, regardless of wind or weather, the little animal ventures to emerge from his den in the ground or under rocks to size up conditions. After hibernating several weeks, the groundhog is naturally timid and is easily frightened. There fore, if it sees its own shadow when it comes forth into the light, it becomes frustrated and naturally hikes back under the ground where it remains another six weeks, during which period Old Bory holds high carnival, Taku winds howl and winter lingers. However, in the event there is no sun to create a shadow, the groundhog soon acquires confidence and remains out in the open, in which event winter sneaks away into the offing, spring advances and all nature stands on her head and dangles her heels in the air in glee. All good people--people imbued with the spirit that seeks to advance the public welfare-- will hope, and even pray, that the sun may not shine tomorrow, but that clouds, dark, thick, and dense, may hover over this section of Alaska just like they do on picnic days in summer. The sun is shining brightly here today which fast is causing considerable uneasiness.

Image credit: The Alaska daily empire. (Juneau, Alaska), 01 Feb. 1918. Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers. Lib. of Congress. <http://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn84020657/1918-02-01/ed-1/seq-7/>

Groundhog Backs Up. The official groundhog came forth this morning, took a slant at the sun and slid back into his hole with his nose nipped. He is due to reappear in six weeks, which will be March 15. According to the statute in such case made and provided in the cornfed Middle West winter should end on that date, but the latitude and climate of Alaska are too stiff even for a groundhog, and when he comes out then he is likely to give the weather the once-over and retire for another six weeks. An Alaska groundhog ought to be given two guesses at spring.

Image credit: Valdez daily prospector. (Valdez, Alaska), 02 Feb. 1917. Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers. Lib. of Congress. <http://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn98060264/1917-02-02/ed-1/seq-2/>

Bad Day for the Old Ground-Hog: If the alleged faith of the groundhog in the tradition of his kind is based on fact, we are in for some bad weather before the sun gets back on our side of the equator. Today is "Ground-hog Day," and if the ground hog came out he saw his shadow, for the sun was shining brightly hereabouts this morning. The New England tradition is that the ground-hog comes out of his hole on the second day of February and if he sees his shadow he hastens back to cover to remain for six weeks.

Image caption: The Alaska daily empire. (Juneau, Alaska), 02 Feb. 1915. Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers. Lib. of Congress. <http://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn84020657/1915-02-02/ed-1/seq-1/>

Groundhog Day Was Phenomenal: it must have been a reluctant retreat made by the cautious old groundhog yesterday morning, after stepping out of doors and observing his dark shadow cast across show as bright and soft as if warmed by an April instead of an early-February sun. According to tradition, the ground hog went back into his hole to remain six weeks longer, and thereby escape the storms portended by the present fair weather. There are some people hereabout who profess to believe the groundhog has played a joke on himself this time. The winter having been fine beyond all precedent so far, they contend that it is rather more logical to conclude that it will continue so than it will vent its full fury in its closing days. However that may be, the groundhog was greeted by a radiant day.

Image credit: Iditarod pioneer. (Iditarod, Alaska), 03 Feb. 1912. Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers. Lib. of Congress. <http://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn95060032/1912-02-03/ed-1/seq-4/>

Whether the proverbial groundhog sees his shadow or not, it’s important to keep warm these next few weeks. And keep an eye out for the humble marmot!

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